Madness, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Nutty Boys leave them skastruck
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The Independent Culture

Whoever came up with the idea of inviting ska-pop survivors Madness to headline Edinburgh's internationally famed Hogmanay celebrations was thinking pretty laterally. To most minds, Suggs and co's music and image cast them as definitive Londoners, so asking the Camden-formed group to play here was the rough cultural equivalent of letting the Proclaimers headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

Still, there were no obvious contenders for the top spot among those other groups invited to play on either Princes Street Gardens' Ross Bandstand, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, or the stage set up at the entrance to Waverley train station. In the absence of a true breakthrough act for 2010 like Glasvegas or Paolo Nutini, this year's Scots representatives were relegated to lower down the bill, including the Last Shadow Puppets-like side project of Jon Lawler from the Fratellis, Codeine Velvet Club, or the intelligent, anthemic indie-rock of Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks. Both signed to Brighton's Fat Cat label, this latter pair boast huge local support, but are slow-burning their way to wider acclaim in a similar manner to, say, Biffy Clyro.

Otherwise, aggressive Coventry lad-rockers the Enemy and the pleasant but insubstantial Noisettes didn't quite have the populist appeal to carry off an event of this scale. So it's fortunate that Madness manage to dominate it with a cheeriness, professionalism and good humour that entirely dispel memories of Suggs hosting cheap karaoke-based TV shows and the sense of enduring dismay that they're now the kind of group who have inspired a musical based on their songs. For nearly an hour-and-a-half, with a five-minute break for the countdown to midnight and a monumental firework display, the black-suited 10-piece group deliver a cavalry charge of instantly recognisable hits that are perfectly pitched towards the party atmosphere.

Suggs, a white silk handkerchief sprouting from his suit pocket, summons a performance of such droll, expletive-peppered deadpannery that it raises the question, has he been indulging in the party spirit(s) before taking to the stage? If so, it only aids the show, with his cheerful introduction of the band's sound technician LJ – whose birthday the bells also heralded – and their manager's pregnant wife building up a charming communal atmosphere.

That the more reflective half-hour that saw out 2009 could find room for such lively tracks as "One Step Beyond", "Embarrassment" and "The Prince" was demonstration that this group have never really made music to sit still to. These were mixed with an a cappella take on the Beatles "Help!" from Suggs, which naturally doesn't remain a solo version once the crowd find their voice, and the group's final live track of 2009, "Forever Young", which is thematically appropriate but probably the set's least entertaining song.

No stop remained unpulled for the second portion of the set, however, with "House of Fun", "Shut Up", "Baggy Trousers" and "Our House" joined by a smooth cover of Max Romeo's reggae classic "I Chase the Devil" and "It Must Be Love", the one point at which balladry is positively demanded from this group. Yet it provided only a short break from the mass skanking, and the band's own title track then the closing "Night Boat to Cairo" finished out a celebratory set that was more successful than even the event's organisers must have hoped for.

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